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William Scranton on: His Visit to the Plant
William Scranton Q: How does this idea come up to go to the plant?

WS: If you saw the movie "Titanic", the movie spent an awful lot of time diagramming what happened in the accident. So you knew where the iceberg hit, how the water got beyond the bulkheads, how all that happened. You need a graphic understanding of a situation to make a complete judgment and we didn't have that. None of us knew what this power plant looked like. We had no schematic drawing. It wasn't like some Hollywood movie where some expert had come in and thrown up, you know, the blue prints for the plant on a screen. We didn't know. And we weren't really happy with the information that we were getting. It occurred to me, "Someone's got to go down there and look at that place and see it." And being 30 years old and maybe thinking I was more immortal than I really was, said, "I'm going to go down there." And I went to Dick Thornburgh. I said, "I want to go down there and I want -- this is not a publicity thing. I don't want to take press, but we need to know what's going on." He said, "Yeah, we do." So I went down to the plant and they thought that they were going to give me a tour of the control room, which they did. And I needed to know what the feeling was on the island, too, whether these guys were lost or whether they were on top of things and what the atmosphere was. You can tell a lot from the atmosphere. But then I said, "I want to go see into this auxiliary building and I want to see this water and I want to see what it is." And, of course, they thought I was nuts. I don't blame them. You know, water is water, but the fact of the matter is these guys knew what a plant looked like. They knew the lay-out. We didn't and we had the benefit of that ignorance. And by that, I mean we were in the same position people were and we could see it freshly for the first time. It was like they'd seen it every day and they were likely to overlook something or presume we knew something that we didn't know. It took me 45 minutes to get in all of the suits and putting all the dosimeters on me so that they knew how much radiation I got and the protective boots and everything. And I remember walking in there and, I must say, I was quite unnerved the closer I got to it. But nobody had been able to give us a good idea of what this was all about. Obviously, I'm not looking in the core of the reactor, but I am looking at what, at that time, was considered the source of the trouble, which was the water and where it was. And I came back with a much clearer understanding of what was going on on that island, not necessarily a clear understanding of what was going on inside of that reactor, which, obviously, was very critical, but what had happened and where the danger was and wasn't. And I came back very heartened by the feeling on the island, which is to say that there wasn't confusion. These were professionals who were clearly working hard to get on top of things and were doing that, at least insofar as they could. But I also came back with a much clearer understanding of what the thing looked like and what was involved. And, to me, that was invaluable in making judgments from there on out.

Q: Describe that process of suiting up.

WS: Getting you ready to go into an area of radioactivity is an enormously complicated undertaking which requires actually very precise moves. It's like getting ready to get into a space suit to go on a space walk. You're in an unfriendly, to say the least, atmosphere, so you have to be completely protected from it, from every molecule of oxygen that's there. There were boots that fit over pants, that fit over -- I mean there was layer upon layer upon layer. When I started walking and I looked down and I saw on the floor this water, which looked like, you know, water in your basement except it happened to be in the auxiliary building of a nuclear power plant. I realized that what was around me was highly contaminated, you know. I realized how wonderful it was to have all this equipment on. My time inside there was very short compared to the amount of time it took to take on and take off this suit and to test me for how much radioactivity I have.

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